Saturday, 28 February 2009

Daring Bakers February 2009 Challenge: Chocolate Valentino

When I saw this months challenge was a chocolate valentine I was highly curious as to what it was as it conjured up images of exploding chocolate volcanoes in my head. It turns out to be a rich, moist and wickedly chocolaty flourless chocolate cake – thankfully involving no volcanoes or explosions of any kind. (Yes I initially misread the title as a chocolate volcano!) It involves just 3 simple ingredients, chocolate, butter and eggs. No flour, no ground nuts and more surprisingly no added sugar! Yes that’s right, the only sweetness in this cake comes from the chocolate, so depending on how bitter or sweet you like your desserts determines on what type of chocolate you should use. Whatever cocoa percentage of chocolate you use, it should be good quality, as the chocolate really is the main flavour and ingredient of this cake – in involves a LOT of chocolate. I usually like my chocolate dark and intense, but the fact the recipe involved no added sugar left me feeling a little daunted, so I decided to go for a nice middle of the range 55% cocoa content, which I feel turned out just right.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This month not content with just a chocolate cake to contend with but we were also given the choice of two vanilla ice creams to make to accompany the cake. I decided to go with Dharm’s ice cream recipe, as it used an egg yolk custard base and I had plenty of yolks left over from my latest Cake Slice challenge. I also flavoured my ice cream with Amaretto which added an interesting note as it melted on your tongue and I think it always pairs well with chocolate. I couldn’t resist dipping a spoon into the custard base before I tucked it away in the freezer, so creamy and comforting.

I decided to also make a simple warm chocolate sauce to drizzle over the slices of cake when serving, which I think made the dessert complete. The cake puffed up and cracked in the oven but slowly relaxed into a flat surface while cooling. It was moist and very dense, but not heavy. Despite its appearance, it actually had quite a light mouthfeel, similar to a just cooked brownie. The deep, slightly bitter chocolate flavour was really intense, which as a dark chocolate lover I adored, but it may have been a bit too bitter for some people, but I suppose you could always add mostly milk chocolate for a sweeter taste. I wonder if white chocolate would work? It’s definitely more of an after dinner dessert rather than an afternoon tea cake. I kept the cake on the counter but moved it to the fridge on the second day and after that it became more like a giant fudgy truffle – I think it would be great cut into little squares and served with coffee like this.

Thanks Wendy and Dharm for a tasty chocolate challenge. Click to view their creations along with the other Daring Bakers Cakes.

Flourless Chocolate Valentino
(Recipe from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan)
455g semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (around 55%)
145g unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated
1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often. Remove from the heat once melted.
2. While the chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Grease an 8inch/20cm deep springform cake tin and line with a parchment circle. Preheat the oven to 190C.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks until thick and slightly pale.
6. Stir the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and gently fold in the remaining two-thirds until no white remains. Do not over mix or the batter will deflate.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 60C, or until the top of the cake looks like it has a thin sugary crust and a soft interior, similar to a brownie. A cake tester will appear wet.
9. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Dharm's Ice Cream Recipe - Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
(Recipe from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis)Ingredients
1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with 1tsp vanilla extract)
300ml Semi Skimmed Milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g caster sugar
1 tsp corn flour
300ml Double Cream
(I added 1 tbsp Amaretto)

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways. Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuseLift the vanilla pod up. Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. Set the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.
3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time.
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it into a clean bowl and stir in the Amaretto. Allow it to cool before refrigerating.
5a. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon. Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container. Freeze for 6 hours, beating the mix every 2 hours to ensure a smooth and creamy texture or else the ice cream may be icy and coarse. Freeze until firm enough to scoop.
5b. For Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream (not whisked) into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker).

Simple Chocolate Sauce
100ml double cream
60g dark chocolate
2 tsp runny honey

Heat the cream until small bubbles begin to appear. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and honey until smooth.
Serve warm.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Midweek Veggie Pizza

This pizza dough has become my favourite of all the recipes I have tried. It involves very little effort as the ingredients and mixed and then left in the fridge overnight before being used, meaning you don’t have to worry too much about kneading or proving times as it works its magic overnight and always produced a lovely elastic dough. The dough can be kept for up to 5 days in the fridge meaning you can make it Sunday evening and then its all ready to go any evening of the week, whenever the pizza cravings kick in after a bad day, it can be on the table in under half an hour with no hassle. I think the dough actually improves over time and becomes more like a sourdough, it has a good crisp and slightly chewy crust and a great flavour. The tomato sauce can also be made in advance, so everything is ready to go and the only preparation required is forming the dough and adding a few topping. Faster than a takeaway and much tastier too.

The pizza is cooked at the highest temperature your oven can manage, meaning it’s done in only a matter of minutes. By placing a pizza stone or sturdy baking tray in the oven while it heats up to temperature, you then simply slide your pizza onto the hot tray and it immediately starts to cook and crisp up underneath, ensuring a lovely crisp crust – no more soggy bases!

Another great thing about pizzas is that you can put almost anything on them and I’ve found a whole host of ingredients which work well, if not considered a little unusual by some, including grated carrot and apple. This week’s find was beetroot, the fresh kind, not the pickled variety. I had some boiled beetroot sitting in the fridge and though – why not? So I added a few slices along with some peppers, mushrooms, red onion and slices of jarred artichoke hearts that were another fridge lingerer. I loved the taste of the beetroot, its short oven roasting really brought out its flavour and added a little zing against the other components and created a moody purple ring into the surrounding sauce. I don’t know why more restaurants don’t offer it as a pizza topping; I bet it would be fantastic finished with a bit of crumbled goats cheese.

Midweek Veggie Pizza
For the pizza dough
320g strong plain white flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
30ml olive oil
210ml water
2 tsp caster sugar

Tomato topping
1 onion
1 large can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

2 mushrooms
2 artichoke hearts from a jar
½ red pepper
¼ red onion
Grated cheese or slices of mozzarella
1 cooked fresh beetroot (not pickled)

Method – For the pizza dough
Add the flour, salt, yeast and sugar into a bowl. Mix with your fingers and make a well in the centre.
Pour over the olive oil and water and mix together using the tips of your fingers until a sticky dough is formed.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until smooth, around 5 minutes. The dough should become less sticky although still tacky to the touch.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with clingfilm. Place in the fridge overnight or up to 5 days.
Tear off chunks of dough when required. Enough for 3 x 9inch pizzas.

For the tomato topping
Peel and finely dice the onion. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and oregano. Cook until soft, then finely crush the garlic and add to the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, sundried tomato paste and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Allow to simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture has reduced and thickened.
Allow to cool in the pan, then transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until required.
Makes enough sauce to cover 3 pizza bases.

To assemble
When ready to eat the pizza, preheat the oven to its hottest setting, usually around 250-275C. Place a pizza stone or baking tray into the oven to heat up.
Have a sheet of baking parchment or a silicone mat ready and dust the top with flour or fine cornmeal.
Lightly dust your hands with flour and tear off a third of the pizza dough. Gently stretch it, pulling from the middle outwards, to your desired thickness.
When the dough is quite thin, lay it onto a sheet of baking parchment or a silicone mat and pull into shape. (Can create a 9inch/23cm circle or 25cmx15cm rectangle).
Spread a third of the tomato sauce over the top, leaving a small rim around the edge.
Add slices of mushrooms and other assorted vegetables or meats of your choosing.
Grate or crumble the cheese of your choice over the top.
Remove the hot baking tray from the oven and quickly slide the sheet of baking parchment with your pizza on it, onto the baking tray and return to the oven.
Bake for 8-9 minutes until the crisp, golden brown and bubbling.
(If you pile lots of topping on, then baking may take a couple of minutes longer).
Eat and enjoy.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Cake Slice February Cake: Southern Coconut Cake

This is Februarys cake of choice for The Cake Slice Bakers and what an unbelievable cake it was. It looks quite unassuming, all elegantly white and rather like a giant snowball which was perfect considering the snowy weather we had earlier this month. Don’t let its snowball appearance fool you into thinking it’s a plain boring cake, for it contains a whole host of wonderful flavours and textures. The cake layers themselves are so soft and tender thanks to the addition of coconut milk into the batter which gives it a fantastic smooth and sort of creamy mouthfeel. It is also made using only egg whites which resulted in a wonderfully light texture. This is going to sound odd, but imagine the feel of silky soft cotton wool on your skin, well it’s a bit like that, soft and smooth in your mouth – (without the nasty woolliness) I know its sounds strange but that was honestly the first thought that came into my head when I ate it. It’s got quite a close texture with no large air holes and yet it’s so light, I’ve never had a cake like it before.

The frosting was a new revelation for me too. It’s your basic cream cheese frosting, but it then has Italian meringue whisked into it which made it much lighter and allowed it to sort of melt on your tongue. Creamy and slightly sweet but without being too rich. I added the grated zest of a lime to my frosting too, as I think coconut and lime complement each other so well. It wasn’t obviously limey but it just added a subtle zesty undertone while still allowing the coconut to be the prominent flavour. A word of advice though is to ensure you use an American cream cheese when making the frosting, such as Philadelphia, I don’t normally suggest brands but I used a UK own brand first time but it sort of collapsed into a wet mess and I ended up with an icing that was more like soup and had to start again – lesson learned. I also reduced the sugar to 400g for the cake without any ill effects.

Topped off with desiccated or flaked coconut for a nice contrasting texture this cake was a joy to eat. I’ll be making it again soon as I’m sure it will be a hit with my family back home. Click to see the other Cake Slice Bakers coconut cakes.

Southern Coconut Cake
(Recipe from Shy High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman & Peter Wynne)
For the cake
5 egg whites
110ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
360g plain flour
475g caster sugar
4½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
220g butter at room temperature
225ml unsweetened coconut milk
250g desiccated or flaked coconut for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line the base of three 8inch/20cm sandwich tins and set to one side.
Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk gently until slightly foamy but not so that they become white and fully aerated. Add the milk and vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Add the soft butter and coconut milk and beat with an electric whisk until combined. Increase the speed and whisk for 2 minutes until light and creamy.
Add the egg white mixture a third at a time, whisking well between each addition.
Divide the batter between the three tins and bake for 30 minutes until risen, springy when pressed and lightly golden in colour.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Cream cheese meringue buttercream frosting
(Use Philadelphia or other American brand of cream cheese – UK own brands for some reason collapse into a wet mess during this method)
350g cream cheese
200g butter at room temperature
125g icing sugar
2 tsp granulated or caster sugar
55ml water
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites

Beat the cream cheese and smooth and fluffy. Add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, beating well until combined.
Sift over the icing sugar and add the vanilla and mix until well incorporated. (Add any additional flavouring you wish – I added the grated zest of 1 lime).
Mix the water and caster sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to bubble for 2-3 minutes until syrupy and measuring 112C on a sugar thermometer.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then slowly drizzle in the sugar syrup while combining to whisk until the syrup is all incorporated. Continue to beat until the mixture cools and a stiff meringue has formed.
Continue to whisk the meringue and beat in the cream cheese mixture a tablespoon at a time, beating well until smooth and fluffy.
To assemble
Place one cake layer on the serving plate and cover generously with the meringue buttercream. Top with another cake layer, more buttercream and the final cake layer.
Use the remaining buttecream to completely cover the top and sides of the cake.
Scatter the desiccated or shredded coconut over the top of the cake and press it onto the sides using a cupped hand (I sort of tossed mine at the sides and scooped up any bits that fell off).
Place the cake in the fridge to chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the buttercream to firm up.
Takes even better the next day when the flavours have melded together.
Serves 12 generously.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Individual Apple & Cinnamon Oat Crumbles

Today is my blogs 2nd birthday! I can’t believe it’s rolled round again so quickly. It doesn’t feel as though 12 months have passed since I made the spiced apple cake for the blogs 1st birthday last year. Keeping with the apple and spice tradition, and as I’m still in the ‘everything individual is so cute’ stage I decided to make some apple and cinnamon crumbles to celebrate.

These were so quick to make as no pre cooking of the apple is required. I didn’t think they would need it as the crumbles are baked in individual ramekins and so would get a good heat exposure on all sides. It’s simply a matter of chopping the apple and topping with crumble mix before baking. You can be eating it in under an hour which is always a bonus when you get the sudden urge for something sweet. I think it’s nice to get a whole individual dessert to yourself, rather than having a spoonful out of a bigger dish, as I find it seems to satisfy me without creating the urge to go back and have another scoop as can happen with bigger dishes. Plus it prevents squabbles that someone has got more topping than someone else or they’ve taken the crispy edge bit that they wanted.

I found some new cooking apples in my local market recently, not the usual Bramleys I often get and I found them to be much sweeter than normal cooking apples (can’t remember what they are called though – sorry). So much so that I didn’t add any sugar to the apple mix itself, as I like my apple to be a little tangy. However, if using Bramleys I would suggest tossing the apple in a tablespoon of caster sugar before you use it, to prevent it from being too sharp. Served with a little cream or custard these make wonderful quick and tasty desserts.

Individual Apple & Cinnamon Oat Crumbles
2 medium or 1 very large cooking apple
100g rolled oats
75g butter
150g plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
100g soft brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Peel, core and finely dice the apple. Depending on the sharpness of your apple, toss in a tablespoon of caster sugar or if sweet then leave plain. Divide the apple between 4 ramekins.
Add the rest of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and rub the butter into the flour-sugar-oat mixture until it resembles crumbs.
Scatter handfuls of the crumble mixture over the top of the apples, pressing down lightly.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and the crumble has turned golden brown.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with custard, cream or ice cream.
Makes 4
Update: I have since found out that the apples I used are called Howgate Wonder.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Cinnamon Heart Cookies

Valentines day is just around the corner and if your in need of a little something extra for your girl/boyfriend then don’t go down the road of a box of store bought chocolates (unless it’s a special kind you know they love), why not bake them some special cookies instead. It’s so much more personal and shows that time and effort has been put into baking something especially for them. And if they are anything like me, they may still have plenty of half eaten boxes of chocolates lingering over from Christmas and not in need of any more!

These cookies and wonderfully crisp and packed full of wonderful cinnamon flavour to add a bit of tongue tingling spice. They are very easy to bake and when simply topped with a thin layer of icing and a scattering of sprinkles they produce a cookie that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face. I found some adorable heart shaped napkins in my local supermarket – never seen these before and couldn’t resist getting them.

So if you want to give that special someone a homemade gift then give these a go. You can flavour and decorate them any way you wish. Why not have some fun and write little messages on them ‘I love you’ or ‘Kiss me’ come to mind. Also, if you are harboring a secret crush for someone and haven’t the courage to ask them out why not write it on a cookie instead ‘Fancy a date?’ Whatever you get up to this Valentines day, I hope you get to share it with someone you love, be it with friends, family, that special someone (or even George the goldfish).

Cinnamon Heart Cookies
45g butter
60g caster sugar
85g plain flour
½ tsp cinnamon
3 tsp vegetable oil

Beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat in until all incorporated and the butter has lightened in colour.
Add the cinnamon, oil and flour and mix into a crumbly dough.
Use your hands to bring the mixture together, add a drop of water if needed.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour to firm up.
Preheat the even to 180C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Lightly dust a work surface and roll out the dough until 3-4mm thick. Cut out hearts or other shapes and place on the baking tray.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
When cool, top with royal icing and decorate with the sprinkles of your choice.
Store in an airtight container until needed.
Makes 12 cookies.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Trio of Miniature Chocolate Desserts

As promised, here is the chocolate trio for the choice of desserts made for my mums birthday. It comprised of a rich chocolate, orange and Cointreau tart, a moist chocolate brownie and a velvety smooth chocolate mousse served in espresso cups, complete with cream ‘foam’ and tuile biscuit ‘stream.’

I tried to choose desserts which would look good as individual miniature desserts as we wanted everyone to have their own complete dessert rather than a slice of one. I know the brownies were served as a slice, but I think that’s allowed. I deliberated over exactly what to choose for some time, I wanted each dessert to have different tastes and textures, no two things with pastry or no two spongy things etc.

The brownies were moist and tender and full of chocolaty flavour. Served slightly warm with a small blob of ice cream they are heavenly. This is my go to recipe whenever the need for brownies arises.

I had recently found some gold food dust that said you could dilate a little in water to make into a paint. I was longing to try it out and so used it to add some shiny dots to the top of the chocolate and orange tart, which I think really finished it off and made it look special. The tart had a wonderful rich chocolate flavour and as the chocolate melted on your tongue the fresh orange flavour came through and finished with a subtle boozy note. I’m not a fan of orange flavoured chocolate, but the mix of dark chocolate with fresh orange is divine.

The chocolate mousse is silky smooth if eaten straight away but firms up slightly after a few hours in the fridge. It dissolves seductively on your tongue, filling your whole mouth with a chocolate intensity, so good quality chocolate is a must. I think this was my favourite dessert of the bunch and I loved the look of it in the espresso cups.

Chocolate Brownie
(Recipe from Leiths Baking Bible)
140g butter
200g dark chocolate
180g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
85g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
80g white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line the base of a 8inch/20cm square tin.
Break the dark chocolate into pieces and place into a large bowl along with the butter. Melt gently over a pan of simmering water until smooth. (The water should not touch the base of the bowl)
Remove the bowl from the heat and beat in the vanilla and the sugar.
Beat the eggs in one at a time, until thick and glossy.
Sift over the flour and baking powder and beat until no flour streaks remain.
Chop the white chocolate into small chunks and fold in the brownie batter.
Pour the batter into the tin and bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes until slightly risen and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs, rather than wet batter, sticking to it.
Allow to cool almost completely in the tin. Remove from the tin and cut into 9-12 pieces.
Store in an airtight container lined with greaseproof for up to three days.
Great when served slightly warm with a blob of ice cream.

Chocolate, Orange & Cointreau Tart
250g sweet shortcrust pastry
150ml double cream
150g dark chocolate
1 orange
1 tbsp Cointreau
Gold food dust/dye or white chocolate for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut out circles of pastry and press into miniature tart tins. Trim off any excess. Chill for 30 minutes.
Lay a small square of clingfilm on top of the pastry tins and fill each cavity with baking beans or rice. Gather the clingfilm around it to use as a weight.
Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, then remove the rice weight and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until golden and crisp.
Set aside until cool.
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and grate the zest from the orange on top. Heat gently until small bubbles begin to appear.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a bowl. Pour the hot cream over the top of the chocolate and stir gently until smooth.
Stir in the Cointreau and immediately fill the pastry cases with the chocolate mix.
Leave until set.
Dissolve a little of the gold food dust in water and paint dots over the surface of the chocolate tart. (Use melted white chocolate in place of dust if you prefer).
Makes 12-15 miniature tarts.

Chocolate Espresso Cup Mousse

40g caster sugar
2 tsp honey
3 tsp water
3 egg yolks
175g dark chocolate
350ml double cream

Tuile squiggles
150ml double cream
Dark chocolate for grating

Place the sugar, honey and water into a small saucepan and heat to simmering point, then allow to bubble for 3 minutes until syrupy but still clear in colour.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with an electric whisk until pale, thick and more than doubled in volume.
While still whisking, slowly drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the egg yolks. Continuing to beat until the mixture has cooled, around 3-5 minutes.
Brake the chocolate into pieces and add to a small saucepan along with 50ml of cream. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the chocolate has melted and it looks smooth and shiny. Remove from the heat and pour into a separate bowl to cool slightly.
Whip the remaining cream until soft peaks form. Take a third and beat it into the melted chocolate to slacken the mix. (It may take a while to fold in, but keep mixing and it will suddenly turn).
Add the chocolate mix to the egg yolks and fold in using a spatula.
Fold in the rest of the cream until no streaks remain but do not over mix to try and keep it as light as possible.
Spoon the chocolate mousse into a piping bag fitted with a large plain nozzle.
Pipe into espresso cups, filling almost to the top. Store in the fridge until required.
Just before serving, lightly whip the double cream and pipe on to create the ‘foam.’ Grate over a little dark chocolate and top with squiggly ‘steam’ tuile biscuits.
Makes 10-12 espresso cup mousse

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Trio of Miniature Fruity Desserts for a Special Birthday Celebration

My mum celebrated a very special birthday in January and rather than have a huge party with everyone she knows, she decided it would be nicer to have a series of celebratory dinners or outings with her different circles of friends and family. One of her wishes was to have a dinner party with 8 of her (and my dads) oldest friends. Rather than let her slave over her own birthday dinner, my sister and I volunteered to cook the meal for her in exchange for freedom over the menu and keeping it a secret until they were sitting round the table. She was more than happy to that suggestion and so the fun and whispered discussions began. First we planned the main course, and wanting to make sure we made something that suited everyone we sent round an email to the guests asking if there were any foods they didn’t like. It’s a good thing we did as here is an example of the feedback we got “carrots, lamb, salmon, shellfish, mushrooms, green veg, beetroot, anchovies, smelly cheese and cabbage.” Oh well, that was the lamb, prawn and beetroot stew out the window then ;)

We decided to do two main courses in the end, to ensure there would be something for everyone. We chose Oriental Chicken by Delia Smith that was marinated in a sticky fragrantly spiced sauce and a Pork, Bean and Chorizo Stew that was in the winter BBC Good Food magazine. It caught my eye as it was a recipe for 10 people which was just what we were after. We decided to make a huge batch of rice and serve it with chanterelle carrots, tender stem broccoli, French beans and ciabatta for dipping so people could pick and choose and those wanting to avoid carrots etc could do so. My sisters boyfriend R also agreed to come dressed up and be the butler for the evening which meant that with 10 guests, the three of us and my brother who was hiding in the side lines we were really having to cook enough food for 14 people and as we didn’t know who would want which dish, we cooked enough for 10 servings of each, so really we could have fed 20!! We had to do a last minute dash to my grandparents to borrow some of their saucepans as we didn’t have enough large ones to cook all the veg in.

We decided against a starter and instead did a variety of canapés for people to nibble on while sipping Kir Royal (Chamapigne and Crème de Cassis mixed) on arrival. We did blinis with crème fraiche and smoked salmon or green olive and coriander tapenade for the salmon haters. As well as some homemade Parma ham puff pastry twists, mini Thai poppadoms with a chili, cream cheese and coriander dip and spiced nuts.

I’m the baker of the family and so the dessert was left up to me, although my sister did of course give her opinions. We decided that elegant miniature desserts were the way to go. I wanted to give a choice and so came up with the idea of doing two different dessert trios – with either a chocolate or a fruity trio option, but with similar components on each. I only realised later this meant I had to make six different desserts – I can’t resist a challenge! Then cheese, grapes, crackers and chutney to finish with coffee and chocolates.

We were having the party on a Saturday and my sister was working away from home all week which meant it was up to me to shop for and buy all the food, some of the drinks and serving dishes etc. You should have seen the three page shopping list I took with me to Tesco’s – 20 chicken thighs, 2kg carrots, 3kg pork etc. I was having to swing my whole body along with the trolley to try and get it to turn corners by the end, good thing a small child didn’t run into my path or else they might have been crushed. I have never done a shop like it but it was rather thrilling! It then didn’t all fit in the boot of my car – it’s only small. Once home I then realised I had to try and not only find fridge space for all the food, but I had to try and hide most of it too as we were keeping the menu a secret. I ended up hiding some things too well and it was a game of hunt the crackers for the cheese during the evening (they were behind some books on the bookshelf – obvious place for them really!)

I wanted to serve the desserts on flat plates and I knew I wanted the desserts to all be individual and miniature and spent a while browsing through all the shops in town looking for suitable plates and serving dishes. Every time I thought I had found something I liked they never had 10 of them. I was thinking of serving some mini crème brulees in tiny glass bowls but when I found some plain white egg cups I knew I had to use those – they were just perfect. Do you know what we used as plates in the end for the desserts? Bathroom floor tiles! My parents redecorated their bathroom a couple of years ago and we still had two packs of spare tiles tucked away in the garage. They were a little on the large side, but nicely flat, quite neutral and when washed and polished they did the job perfectly.

So without further ado here are the recipes for the fruity dessert trio which comprised of a mini lemon tart served with a butterfly tuile courtesy of this months Daring Bakers challenge, an almond and blueberry frangipane square which was topped with a small blob of ice cream and an egg cup crème brulee! It’s a shame he photos are a bit poor, it was dark by the time we got round to serving dessert. See back soon for the chocolate trio.

Mini Lemon Tart
Recipe adapted from Delia Smiths Winter Collection
2 lemons
2 eggs
60g caster sugar
70ml double cream
10 – 12 mini sweet shortcrust pastry cases (see below)

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grate the zest from the lemons and set to one side.
Beat the eggs and sugar together until combined but you don’t want them to thicken, so don’t overbeat.
Add the juice from the lemons and the lemon zest.
Finally gently beat in the double cream.
Divide between the 10-12 mini pastry cases and bake for 12-15 minutes until set.
Leave to cool before serving. I served mine with a butterfly tuile biscuit from the January Daring Bakers challenge.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Recipe from Bake by Rachel Allen
200g plain flour
1tbsp icing sugar
100g cold butter
1 medium egg

Put the flour, icing sugar and butter into a food processor and pulse gently until the mix starts to resemble chunky crumbs.
Beat the egg and add half to the flour mix, blitz again, adding more egg until the crumbs begin to stick together but it is still crumbly in texture.
Pour the pastry mix onto a large square of clingfilm, gather the film together and squeeze the pastry into a dough. Flatten slightly and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry until around 3mm thick (Rachel suggests between two sheets of clingfilm to avoid adding extra flour).
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Cut out circles of pastry and press into miniature tart tins. Trim off any excess. Chill for a further 30 minutes.
Lay a small square of clingfilm on top of the pastry tins and fill each cavity with baking beans or rice. Gather the clingfilm around it to use as a weight.
Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, then remove the rice weight and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until golden and crisp.
Set aside until ready to use.
Makes 20 mini tart cases or one 20cm tin.

Blueberry & Almond Frangipane
110g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g self raising flour
60g ground almonds
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp baking powder
100g fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an 8inch/20cm baking tin and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the eggs and almond extract.
Add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and beat until well incorporated.
Spread the batter into the cake tin and scatter the blueberries over the top (they will sink to the bottom during baking).
Bake for 22-25 minutes until risen, golden brown and springy to the touch.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Leave bottom side up – as this will show off the blueberries.
Cut into squares or rectangles and serve with a small scoop of ice cream.

Mini Egg Cup Crème Brulees
Recipe adapted from Delia Smith
4 egg yolks
3tsp cornflour
1½ tbsp caster sugar
380ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
120g caster sugar for the caramel

Put the cream into a small saucepan and allow to heat gently until just beginning to simmer.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and cornflour together until well combined.
When the cream is hot, slowly pour over the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.
Whisk to ensure it is smooth and then, pass the mix through a sieve back into the pan.
Stir constantly over a low heat until the mixture starts to thicken. DO NOT allow to boil or it will split.
When the custard coats the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and immediately divide between the egg cups or other moulds, filling nearly to the top.
Allow to cool before covering with cling film and refrigerating for at least 4 hours.
Shortly before serving, place the sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has melted and a golden caramel has formed. Shake the pan from time to time, but do not stir during the melting stage.
When melted, spoon or carefully pour a layer of caramel over the top of each custard. Allow to stand for 1 minute to set before serving.
Makes 12 egg cup crème brulees.
If making bigger crème brulees in ramekins, then you can scatter the sugar for the caramel over the top of the custards and caramelise under the grill or with a blowtorch if you prefer.